Australia

Pandemic leave payments reinstated until 30 September as PM vows to ensure ‘people aren’t left behind’

will continue to have access to emergency support payments until 30 September, with the measure to be funded 50:50 by federal and state governments.
The decision comes after a national cabinet meeting on Saturday that was brought forward by two days.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the “changed health circumstance” in the latest COVID-19 surge meant that the support will remain in place until the end of September.

“I want to make sure that people aren’t left behind – that vulnerable people are looked after; and that no one is faced with the unenviable choice of not being able to isolate properly without losing an income and without losing put in a situation that is difficult,” Mr Albanese said.

“And so we will reverse the decision we inherited from the former government to cease this payment.”

The Albanese government had previously said the payments would come to an end, saying the pandemic support could not last indefinitely.

The decision to extend the payments is projected to cost about $780 million.

PM says leaders agreed to convey ‘consistent’ messaging on masks

Mr Albanese also announced the creation of a temporary telehealth item to cover consultations on COVID treatments, including “suitability for oral COVID-19 antivirals”.
“Consistent” and updated mask guidance was also agreed upon by federal and state government leaders.
The use of masks is “highly encouraged” in certain indoor settings, such as aged care facilities, and in crowded places like on public transport.
“The jurisdictions and the Commonwealth also agreed to provide that consistent health messaging out of there to encourage Australians to follow the recommendations that were provided by Professor Kelly.

“These include wearing masks indoors where appropriate, where people are mixing and can’t have social distancing, then that makes sense for that to be highly encouraged.”

The prime minister said the Commonwealth and all states and territories were committed to working collaboratively in what he described as a “more consistent” national approach.
“When you get the health outcomes right, you protect jobs and protect the economy. We are all committed to that.”
When questioned over why the payment system – which had expired on 30 June – had not been restored earlier, Mr Albanese insisted he acted quickly once he had received the latest COVID-19 briefing.

“The decision (to end the payments) was made by the former government … they made those decisions based upon what the advice was at the time,” he said.

“I received a briefing yesterday from the Chief Medical Officer as well as the secretary of the Department of Health, based upon that advice we have responded.”
As Australians seek booster vaccines across the country, the government has also faced calls to extend the free rapid antigen test (RAT) program until the end of winter.
Mr Albanese said that RAT supplies were being made available more readily after the federal government agreed to cover the cost.

“Jurisdictions will utilise existing rapid antigen test stocks funded through these arrangements.”

Reinstated pandemic payments welcomed

The national secretary general of Australian Doctors Reform Society, GP Robert Marr, said he was pleased to see the government respond to medical advice.
“As a GP I have treated casually employed patients who have respiratory symptoms but who don’t want to be tested for COVID-19 because they would have to isolate if they were diagnosed with COVID-19 and they don’t have any sick leave and could not afford to pay for food or rent if they had no income”, Dr Marr said.
“Australia is still in a pandemic and needs people with COVID-19 to isolate and stop the spread”.

Francis Sullivan, Chair of Catholic Social Services Australia, said the move to reverse the federal government’s previous decision to stop the isolation payment would go some way to ensuring protection for the vulnerable.

“Shutting off the payment was always going to be a difficult decision to maintain throughout the dangerous winter months,” Mr Sullivan said.
“Closing the payment scheme sends the wrong message and puts low income and disadvantaged groups at risk as we face warnings of millions of new infections before winter is finished”.
The to anyone aged 30 and over earlier this month.
As of Thursday, nearly 14 million people had received three or more COVID-19 vaccine doses, while almost three million people had received four or more.

Australia recorded more than 43,000 cases and 66 deaths on Friday, with 4,602 people in hospital.

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